Monday, June 2, 2014

June 2nd, 2014

Fresh Air Matters... with Capt. Yaw

After last weeks column, I have been asked to explain more about Crew Resource Management, and so I will indulge, with pleasure. Those who know me well, know that asking a simple question will often lead to a complex, detailed explanation, following the D.E.E.P. principle. Describe, Explain, give Examples and Provide an opportunity for the person asking to use knowledge transferred. So, here we go.

DESCRIBE: CRM, as defined on Wikipedia (not the best place to find a definition, but it works for this purpose) is 'a set of training procedures for use in environments where human error can have devastating effects. Used primarily for improving air safety, CRM focuses on interpersonal communication, leadership, and decision making in the cockpit.'

CRM was introduced to the airlines in response to the human relation challenges created by the flying environment. Following the investigation and analysis of causes in the United Airlines Flight 173 crash in 1978, CRM became a fresh set of letters in the Aviation Alphabet Soup. The trigger crash was caused by the plane running out of fuel - something overlooked whilst the crew were distracted with a landing gear problem. It raised a load of questions about 'who does what' and 'who should take responsibility' - it changed the way we look at the 'workings of a flight crew'. The American NTSB (National Transport Safety Board) subsequently recommended CRM training for all US airline crews. Even NASA (North America Space Agency) picked up on the importance of CRM and provided a detailed workshop on the topic, in the wake of the report. United Airlines were the first airline to implement CRM training for its flight crews in 1981, and that has since become a worldwide standard. It has made flying safer - and the principles have trickled down to the smallest aircraft - and out of the aviation industry to a much wider audience. There is no doubt in my mind that this is one of the lowest cost, with highest return, investments any airline can make - and for that matter any organisation.

EXPLAIN: So what is it? Well, once we understand that most accidents - whether in the air or on the ground - are caused by humans, and that no one person can have eyes and ears on everything at any one time, we can begin to put together CRM. It is the practice of using ALL human resources available - all of the time. Just because there is only one Captain, it does not mean that she must be able to do everything herself. It brings to the forefront the ability of those in charge to accept, embrace and encourage safety related inputs from all available people - whether they are 'specifically trained' or even 'totally new to the situation'. It is about accepting that the 'person in charge' is not 'infallible', and that all can bring their observations, recommendations and experiences to the table, in a fluid, real-time and no-blame culture environment. It is about the team leader and team members working as 'one set of eyes, ears, noses and decision making units' - it takes good leadership and good follower-ship skills - or integrated team work - to make effective.

EXAMPLES: Let us consider two aviation examples, since that is the home of CRM. We will first look at that flight which triggered this life saving system, remembering those who gave their lives on that flight, for their sacrifice which has made our lives safer today:

The aircraft took off with plenty of fuel - far more than it would normally need. The cockpit crew, Captain, First Officer and Flight Engineer, were all experienced. During the approach the landing gear gave problems, leading to time spent trying to resolve the issues. Along the way the Captain asked about fuel, the Flight Engineer gave him updates - simple statements. As the troubleshooting progressed, the Flight Engineer issued several statements about fuel remaining, and finally stated 'three minutes', and the Captain, knowing that he had five minutes to touchdown, appears to have completely ignored the condition telling the First Officer to 'shut down the fuel boosters on touch down'. It is all in the cockpit recording transcript! Remember, the mentality at that time was 'The Captain knows best', and the idea of challenging him was, for many people, 'unthinkable'. Sadly, they never made the airport. The fuel ran out on approach - just as the First Officer had 'warned' but not taken 'responsibility' over. Of course, it is more complex, and there is no blame on individuals - this was a team failure, but it gives you an idea of a non-CRM situation. This lack of Crew Resource Management - the failure of the team leader and team members to work as 'one set of eyes, ears, noses and decision making units' - is found in all industries around the world - and in many Government Agencies also.

On the positive side, I will give an example of my own experience.

I was flying from Kpong to Techiman with a very low hours pilot. We took off and headed towards Akosombo to intercept the Afram leg of Lake Volta, flying a visual route and taking the most scenic options! As the flight progressed, the weather was building up from the South, but we were good to stay on course. My colleague provided regular observations on fuel level, fuel consumption, distance to run, etc. I was busy flying the plane, and watching the weather from the South. Then, I heard over the intercom 'Cylinder head temperature rising'. Enough words to get my attention to the little round gauge that had gently been going from the green towards the red zone as we flew along. It had escaped my attention, simple - I am not infallible. We changed engine regime, monitored the temperature and kept it within the limits - we all ended the flight safely, thanks to CRM. In our local conditions it is easy to get occupied with 'the bigger picture' and to miss out on the details - but there is where your 'crew' come in. Having an 'open management' environment, where the experienced as well as the inexperienced are able to bring observations and recommendations to the table, and they are welcomed, is at the heart of CRM - whether in the cockpit - the car - the hospital operating theatre - the home or the workplace.

PROVIDE AN OPPORTUNITY: Next time you are in a car - as a driver or a passenger - try to think about how you can add to the safety of the trip. As the driver, encourage your passengers to share in the information gathering - as a positive, inclusive leader. As a passenger be ready to point out hazards and keep an eye of the fuel gauge - just in case! Never be afraid to remind the driver to wear their seatbelt - or the correct shoes to drive in.

In business, it is all too easy to think that the 'Director' must know all that is going on - and to keep quiet, letting them take the blame if it comes around. However, all employees are the eyes and ears of the Director - and the company. Relaying key, pertinent information to the top can improve operations, safety and profits. As a leader of industry - think about how you can implement CRM into your operations - in a 'no blame' culture. As an employee - remember that even if 'the company is not for your father', it puts the bread on your table, and you owe it to yourself, your colleagues and the management to become a Crew Resource Management asset.

Capt. Yaw is Chief Flying Instructor and Chief Engineer at WAASPS, and Pilot/Engineer with Medicine on the Move, Humanitarian Aviation Logistics ( e-mail

1 comment:

  1. A very detailed and thoroughly researched piece of article I see here. Thank you Captain Yaw for sharing this vital information with us. It is self explanatory in every way.